The Old Robbourne Gaol, once the second largest prison in Western Australia, has attracted international attention and will be the focus of a documentary.
The history of the Old Robbourne Gaol will be captured in a documentary by UK researcher
The prison was the second largest prison in Western Australia after Fremantle Prison.
Records show that some indigenous people were taken thousands of kilometers to the prison
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains images of people who have died.
University of Liverpool Social Justice professor Barry Godfrey and filmmaker Paul Cook traveled from the UK to Robourne to record the prison’s history and find out what the locals wanted to see with it.
“It’s a really dark, sad history, but it’s also part of a legacy mark,” Professor Godfrey said.
“It’s a community property. It’s a beautifully constructed building. It’s many things to a lot of people.”
He said most people know about Rottnest Island, an original prison island for Aboriginal people that was converted to Holiday Island.
The old regional prison was established in 1884 and inmates from northwest WA were taken away from the Aboriginal prison on Rottnest Island, where overcrowding was becoming fatal.
In 1883, cramped conditions contributed to an outbreak of influenza that killed 59 people.
Overcrowding later became an issue in the Robourne Gol, where wings designed to hold 14 people often held 40 people.
marched thousands of kilometers
Part of Professor Godfrey’s research, presented to the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, involved studying Robourne’s archival prison registers from 1908 to 1961.
He found that most of the indigenous people imprisoned in Roeborne were sentenced in the courts of Derby or Wyndham and taken to prison on foot.
“But people regularly marched from the Kimberley, from all over the Pilbara, to different parts of Western Australia.”
“Imprisoned in Chains”
But the situation did not improve after reaching the prison, with the temperature reaching 50 °C in summer.
“I don’t want to polish it. It was terrible,” said Professor Godre.
“It’s incredibly hot. The food is terrible. The situation is terrible.”
Professor Godfrey said that about a quarter of those inside were for crimes of public order – mainly public drunkenness – and about three quarters were property crimes, often theft or killing of livestock.
“And of course, many Aboriginal people were sentenced to death in situations where whites were not Europeans.
“If you were caught drunk as a local Aboriginal person, you could expect to spend some time within six to nine months.
“But if you were supplying them a drink, you could expect to get a much lesser punishment.”
The old Roeborne prison was closed in 1984, a year after 16-year-old Indigenous teenager John Patt was beaten up by police officers in Roeborne and later died in a cell in the prison.
It was one of the deaths investigated in 1991 by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
Divided Opinion on Heritage Complex
Professor Godfrey said there was locally divided opinion as to what should be done with what he described as one of the most “important cultural and historical monuments, not only in WA, but in Australia”.
“Some people want it to be an arts center, some want it to be demolished. Some people want it to be a wellness center to enhance the health of the local people. And some people, some people want it Will be reopened as a prison,” he said.
“It is he who has fought history. This is the history of the present.
Professor Godfrey said his research on the Old Robbourne Gaol would be available online after completion.
“We’re going to make the film freely available on YouTube so people can see what we’re doing here and see themselves represented.”